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Dear Amy,

I've seen a lot written about what to do to empower girls in school, but I have a 9 year old son, who, despite all my best efforts, hates girls and resists any learning about women and women's history. Is this a backlash against all the emphasis on empowering girls? And how can we continue to empower the girls without shutting out and alienating our sons who will be instrumental in the changes we need to make in order to continue the gains that feminism has made for all?

 

I actually think that feminism's goal is to liberate boys as much as it is to liberate girls, but I think that we have had to work with girls first - or at least they've been an easier target. As much as girls are held back by a perception of "weakness," boys are held back by assuming that they have to be masculine and tough. We have to liberate each gender from those stereotypes. While we have shown girls that they can embrace the "masculine" things in life, like the 40-hour work week, sports and adventure, we haven't yet made it okay for the boys to embrace the "feminine" things - like being emotional and sitting at home reading. If a boy chooses these things, he is still subjected to ridicule.

When the Ms. Foundation started "Take Our Daughters to Work Day", they wanted to create an equivalent "Take Our Sons Home Day." There have been many boys'/men's projects that have been created over the past couple of years like The Fatherhood Project based in Minnesota. We have lots of men and men's organizations who are beginning to work to end violence - like Men Can Stop Rape and Vital Link, which actually works with the perpetrators.

Susan Faludi's last book, Stiffed, examined how men are short-changed by society and Carol Gilligan's new research is focused on boys. This is all to say that I think other feminists identified the problems that you have identified and so realized that we needed to direct energies there as well. I see this in my own work - specifically around the issue of violence and sexual abuse. For a girl to admit to her violation is to label her a victim, but for a boy it's also emasculating, which is like a double assault.

Specific to your son, I don't think it's so important that he embrace women's history, but that he understands the equal value of men and women. I hope that helps.

Amy


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